Rainbow Family Gathering in Georgia Disrupted by Federal Officers (UPDATE 1)
Some 4,500 people, including students, veterans, teachers, homeless youth, professional people, some poor, some wealthy from across the country attended the gathering, which is held in national parks across the U.S. every year.
In Georgia, they were welcomed by the U.S. Federal Forest Service Law Enforcement Officers (LEO) with roadblocks; and illegal searches of cars, possessions, and persons. In the majority of cases, the federal officers found nothing. An unknown number of people were arrested for small amounts of cannabis.
Lt. Alan Roach with the Lumpkin County Sheriff’s Office tells Atlanta Progressive News that his report of arrestees from June 12 to July 8 shows 202 people were arrested but he does not know who are local residents and who are Rainbow attendees. Nor could he tell APN the average monthly arrest total in the County.
In response, about two hundred people held a peaceful protest on July 08 in front of the Lumpkin County Jail to expose the bullying, unlawful, and unconstitutional actions by law enforcement officers.
Incident reports filed by Rainbow attendees claim they were subjected to illegal search and seizure; unauthorized detainment; restriction of access to public property; failure to provide due process and stripping of human, civil, and constitutional rights.
Lumpkin County Police Chief Stacy Jarrard deputized thirty U.S. Forestry Service agents and coordinated with officials from the Georgia State Patrol, Georgia Bureau of Investigations, the Georgia Department of Corrections, the Department of Natural Resources, Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Family and Children Services, as reported in the Dahlonega Nugget newspaper.
The Lumpkin County Police Department sought to control every aspect of their visit instead of allowing people to enjoy themselves in nature for a week and then go home.
A Little Rainbow History
The first Rainbow gathering was held in Colorado in 1972 and was organized by Vietnam Veterans and anti-war peace activists on Independence Day to pray for world peace.
Rainbow is a non-hierarchical group of people with no official leaders, and no memberships. No individual can represent all Rainbows.
They are from all walks of life who share a love and respect for the land, which they say they always leave cleaner than they found it.
Their goal is to create a space of peace and love, to treat everyone with respect and kindness. It is a temporary community with a strong ethic of collective sharing of resources and volunteer services.
Some attendees are homeless and others are wealthy but everyone is equal at the Gatherings. Everyone can eat free; have access to water and medicine; and participate in music, art, yoga, meditation, educational workshops, and prayer.
Actions by Federal Officers
Hundreds, maybe even thousands of cars were stopped by road blocks; people were detained without consent; and their cars and possessions were illegally searched for drugs in what many now call a “dog scam.”
Here is a video one Rainbow attendee made that is representative of what happened to unknown numbers of Rainbow people as they are welcomed to the area by the U.S. Federal Forestry Service Officers.
The people were told that a K-9 dog allegedly smelled drugs, but in the majority of cases, no drugs were found, like in this video.
Michael, a participant at the gathering, said he was stopped and harassed three times by Forest Service LEO and once by Lumpkin County Police.
“I saw them walk through campsites and confiscate bottles of essential oils that they said they had to test for drugs. They did this daily until July third when a federal judge ruled in our favor and stopped this harassment,” Michael told APN.
“I watched a handicapped kid that was missing his leg and part of his arm get pulled out of a chair and slammed on the ground and put in handcuffs because he did not follow their orders to move his chair fast enough,” Michael said.
Another women was pulled from her “Gypsy Wagon” home where she and her son were sleeping. They spent 47 hours in jail and were finally released with no charges.
“We didn’t do anything wrong and we had no drugs,” Liberty, another participant in the Rainbow Gathering, said.
“The police walked through and searched everybody coming in, their vehicles, and their bodies. They pulled everything out of my pockets, took my shoes off, took everything out of my backpack, and searched everyone in the car,” Joey Hartman told APN. The excuse for this illegal search was because one person in the pickup did not have on their seat belt.
Garrick Beck, a longtime Rainbow participant, tells APN that he was detained for an hour by Forest Service police who tore everything out of his car and found nothing.
“People have to stand up for their Constitutional rights. If we are not secure in our homes, cars, or persons from illegal searches and seizures; if we can’t assembly in peace or walk on the road without being ticketed, then we lose our democracy,” Beck said.
One woman reported she was harassed and traumatized by the federal police, which triggered her Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). She said she then suffered from a seizure and was taken to the hospital. The doctor told the police they were wrong and to release her, she said.
Many people were playing in the river and waterfall when an Officer Cooper showed up to arrest them for being naked in the river, participants said. A few minutes later, about twenty armed officers showed up to prevent witnesses from filming the incident or leaving the area. Everyone naked in the river were arrested.
On another day, a man was arrested for bathing in a creek without clothes on and was released on a 420 dollar bond.
Residents, Lawyers, and a Gubernatorial Candidate Speak Out
Many Lumpkin County residents support the Rainbow Gathering, while others are fearful and do not want them in the community.
“I believe they were profiled. A member of the sheriff’s department told me on Facebook that they were profiled as smelly hippies,” Frank Gilkeson, a local resident, told APN.
“The sheriff had a town hall meeting and indicated he was going to be gentle on them, but what he actually did was crack down mercilessly on them. He looked for every possible violation like a tail light out, no seat belt on, and used dogs sniffing every car. Even people playing in the waterfall were arrested for being naked. They were ruthless,” Gilkeson said.
A controversy over permits erupted at that town hall meeting. The sheriff and other citizens were angry that the Gathering is apparently exempt from the U.S. Forest Service Group Use Regulations because everyone at Rainbow Gatherings are individuals, not a group. Therefore, no one person can sign a permit for the others.
Two Atlanta attorneys, Jordan “Alex” Johnson and Catherine Bernard with Spartacus Legal, are investigating claims by Rainbow attendees of constitutional rights violations.
“It looks like the Constitutional rights of many people have been violated. It seems a lot of people… are being incarcerated over traffic tickets that other people would be let go of by having their license,” Johnson told APN.
Ted Metz, a Libertarian candidate for Governor of Georgia, was at the protest rally and runs on a platform that includes legalizing cannabis.
“I support the Rainbow Family because of the concept of equal protection under the law. What’s happening with the over-policing in Dahlonega is disgusting when you see all the 4th and 5th Amendment right violations, it’s un-American,” Metz told APN.
“They are generating revenue out of a peaceful group… it is disgusting to see the sheriff is deputizing federal forestry agencies to help him harass people because they are different.”
Don Wirtshafter, an attorney from Ohio and Rainbow attendee, tells APN in a phone interview that he is “upset about the use of the federal court system for minor traffic violations that the Forest Service wrote.”
The Forest Service wrote 900 citations and they had the option to give the citations as a warning or as a mandatory appearance in federal court in Gainesville, Georgia.
But “for the Rainbow Gathering they issue these tickets as mandatory appearance, so you had this charade of people leaving the forest and going to court.” Wirtshafter said and added “this court does not accept cash and everybody that showed up got a bill to pay later by Internet.”
However, if they did not appear in federal court, then a federal bench warrant would have been issued for them.
There are hundreds of formal complaints from Rainbow attendees regarding the intimidation, harassment, and violations of civil and constitutional rights by law enforcement officers who conducted a massive illegal search looking for drugs without particularized cause.
Stay tuned to APN for coverage of the many lawsuits that will surely follow from the Rainbow Family Gathering in Georgia.
(END / Copyright Atlanta Progressive News / 2018)
UPDATE 1 and CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated that prior Rainbow Gatherings have been without incident in terms of actions by law enforcement. In fact, there have been incidents at prior Gatherings.